Get Ready for the 2008 Space Elevator Challenge

by Nancy Atkinson on January 18, 2008

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Spaceward Foundation
Looking for an exciting challenge, as well as a way to try and create easy and affordable access to space? The 2008 Space Elevator Beam Power Challenge has been announced by The Spaceward Foundation, and competitors have the chance at a $2 million top prize. And don’t think the picture included here is complete science fiction. Meteor Crater in Arizona is one of the sites being considered for the competition, which consists of climbing a vertically suspended tether using power beaming technology.

The Beam Power Challenge event is tentatively set for September 8, 2008. The objectives for the 2008 competition are climbing a tether 1 kilometer in height, at 5 meters per second minimum speed, for a prize level of $2M.

An intermediate prize level of $900k will be given for a speed of 2 m/s. Additionally, teams that can reach an altitude of 1 km at between 1 and 2 m/s will be awarded a prize of up to $50k.

The 1 km climb will be supported by a unique pyramid-anchored balloon system, providing the teams with a stable tether to climb on.

“In broad strokes, the goal of the Space Elevator games is to bring the Space Elevator closer to reality,� Marc Boucher of the Spaceward Foundation writes on their website. “The goal of the power beaming challenge is to promote power beaming technology. We think that the time is ripe now to move the competition to the next level, addressing real-world power beaming scenarios where the minimum requirements for such systems start at the km range and kWatt power levels.�

This is the fourth year of the Space Elevator Games, which started in 2005. In 2007 Team USST from the University of Saskatchewan was the best performer in the competition, moving their laser-powered 25 kg climber [55 lb] at an average speed of 1.8 m/s [6 ft/sec] over a 94 m run. This corresponds to over 400 Watts of mechanical power maintained for almost a minute. They did this 4 times within 40 minutes. 20 other teams were part of the competition.

This year’s challenge, therefore, is a huge leap from 2007. 1 kilometer is high: it’s the altitude a jetliner is at when the cabin crew asks you to put your laptop away.

“The 1 km challenge really takes us to the next level” says Ben Shelef, CEO of the Spaceward Foundation. “The point of power beaming is that it can work over any distance, and this challenge will illustrate the promise of this technology.”

The prize money is provided by NASA’s Centennial Challenges program. NASA has pledged a total of $4,000,000 starting in 2005 through 2010. The Spaceward Foundation has been distributing the prize money in slowly increasing increments, as the difficulty level of the challenges has been ratcheting up.

The ultimate goal for a space elevator system is to have the climbers ascend a tether 100,000 km long, strung between an anchor on Earth and a counterweight in space. Connecting Earth and space in this way, the space elevator will enable inexpensive access to space which, according to the Spaceward Foundation will “completely expand our society into space.�

In this year’s challenge, Spaceward provides the race track, in the form of a vertically-suspended tether, and the competing teams provide Space Elevator prototypes, featuring climbers that have to scale the tether using only power that is transferred to them from the ground using beamed power.

The climbers net weight is limited to 50 kg [110 lbs], and they must ascend the ribbon at a minimum speed of 2 m/s. [6.6 feet per second] carrying as much payload as possible. A high performance prize will be awarded to teams that can move at 5 m/s. [16.5 fps]

Climbers will be rated according to their speed multiplied by the amount of payload they carried, and divided by their net weight. For example, a 15 kg climber, carrying 10 kg of payload at 2.5 m/s will have a score of 10 X 2.5 / 15 = 1.67

Power is unlimited. It is up to the competitors to build the most power dense machine that they can devise.

In addition to Meteor Crater, other sites being considered include Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah, the Albuquerque, New Mexico Balloon Festival site, White Sands, New Mexico, Brothers Rocket Site in Oregon, Black Rock, Nevada, and any NASCAR raceway sites that are far from airports.

Today (January 18, 2008) the registration fee is $1180 USD, and the price will increase by $10 each day (so get your registrations in early!) This is your big chance to change how we access space and perhaps write a unique chapter in history.

For more comprehensive specifications on the competition, see the Spaceward Foundation’s website.

Original News Source: Spaceward Foundation Press Release

About 

Nancy Atkinson is Universe Today's Senior Editor. She also is the host of the NASA Lunar Science Institute podcast and works with Astronomy Cast. Nancy is also a NASA/JPL Solar System Ambassador.

Rick Williams January 18, 2008 at 12:07 PM

Modest estimates put a working space elevator at about $5 billion for a simple system. Too expensive for us to do… yet we spend more than that in hip-hop ringtones for our wireless phones.

John Mendenhall January 18, 2008 at 10:30 AM

It’s a start, especially since I didn’t expect to see serious work on this in my lifetime. Now, about the cables . . .

Callum Hughes January 19, 2008 at 8:43 AM

In my high school I teamed up with my friends and created a website that demonstrated alternative space travel techniques. To understand the general basics of how beaming technology works go to http://www.cosmiccommanders.com

minorwork January 19, 2008 at 4:48 PM

That would be a mighty tall lightnin’ rod, eh? Would the electric potential difference be somewhat problematic, especially with a carbon nanotube rope?

Steven Spray January 21, 2008 at 2:41 PM

Just for interest sake, Mark Boucher with a “k” in the name is the wicket keeper for the South African cricket team.

Michael Halabi Jr. March 10, 2008 at 11:22 PM

hello i am quite interested in learning much more in this area. Please if possible send back other related info.

Kent T September 23, 2008 at 9:09 AM

Has much fun has this is,,,and has been to work on..The spaceward foundation has yet to make a commitment to a locatation for the competetion..has it stands now,,we are looking at late feb to early march..And the location I think,,(if it doesnt keep changing) will be the space shuttle sight in florda,,Nasa’s back yard…Still going to be fun to watch..

Lesor Motive

Kent T September 23, 2008 at 9:10 AM

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